Thursday, February 4, 2016

Harry Kellar Poster

Harry Kellar is definitly one of my favorite magicians. He was one of the most beloved magicians of his time, though I think the Maskelynes might disagree. His posters are highly sought after and they are always gorgeous. I honestly, never imagined I'd own a Kellar poster, but the photo above is MY Kellar poster!

It's kind of funny, most of the Kellar posters are filled with devils and imps and I get one of the few that doesn't include that iconic imagery, lol. But I've decided to include the imps just the same. I have been quietly collecting little devil figurines which I'll put on display right next to this enormous poster. I've got to get it framed and I can only imagine what that will cost. But it's going to look so incredible.

I don't have a huge poster collection, but I do have a few. I have a Fu Manchu, a Levante poster, one or two Virgil posters, a Kassner poster, two KIO posters from Russia, a George poster, and a few others that I can't think of off the top of my head. I also have a ton of modern day posters, all but 2 of the Le Grand David posters, Doug Henning posters, Copperfield and the like. But it's the lithos that are the most desirable. This Kellar is just breathtaking in real life!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Devilish Imagery In Magic

This article originally appeared in Jan 2012. However, I have some things to add and alter from the original version, so I've updated the article here. There are lot more links in this article than the previous one, so I'd encourage you to check those out as well.

The Devilish Connection

Magic has a long history of being associated with the devil and the dark arts. The book, Discoverie of Witchcraft written by Reginald Scott in 1584 came about specifically to show that what witches often did was bunk and what conjurers did was certainly not in a league with the devil. The book was written during the reign of King James 1. This is the very same King James that commissioned an edition of the Bible that still carries his name. He was aware and concerned about witchcraft and demons at one point in his life. He wrote a book on that very topic in 1597, but eventually came around to see that the claims of witches were often grounded more in folklore than in fact.

Let me be clear, though there is a history of association, there is no actual association with the devil. Magicians are not devil worshipers, nor do they conjure up demons in order to present their effects. A number of conjurers over the years have implied this link in order to make their effects more mysterious. The reality is they do not use nor require demonic assistance to create a theatrical magic illusion.

Magicians and conjurers of the 1500-1700s were mostly street & outdoor faire performers. Their use of advertising would have been limited, due to the lack of technology mainly. Whatever early pamphlets or fliers there might have been would have had only words and no graphics or very primitive graphics. But that changed in the 1800s and the use of playbills and posters would eventually be the primary source of advertising a magicians performance right up into the early 20th Century.

I'm not sure who the first magician was to use the devil/imp idea in their marketing & advertising, but it may have come out of the old Phantasmagoria Shows of the early 1800s. These were magic lantern shows, where images of angels, demons, devils, or simply recently departed people were projected onto a wall, or screen or thru smoke giving the illusion of movement. They were a popular form of entertainment in the their time. Magicians were often on the cutting edge of science & technology and so many of the people demonstrating the magic lanterns were from the magic trade.

By the 1840s, European magicians began using devilish creatures in their advertising in limited amounts. The 1848 poster advertising Robert Houdin's performances at the St. James Theater in London even has a few imp creatures on the poster. Though I couldn't find anything like that on his French advertising material.

In America, Robert Heller made more blatant use of the demonic imagery. His early posters were primitive and usually in a single color, but towards the end of his career he began to use two color playbills and posters with the devils appearance becoming more prominent. At one point in his career he adopted the slogan "Go To HELLers!" and printed fliers with this headline and information about the show. Some of these fliers were specifically sent to local churches. The clergymen would attend the programs to see what was going on and often return to tell their congregations about the wonderful entertainment they had seen. I can't help but imagine this scheme had to backfire a time or two, but it was a bold ploy and it worked for Robert Heller.

At the same time Robert Heller was performing in the United States, John Henry Anderson too arrived with a show that was very similar, both men had copied Robert Houdin's act. John Henry Anderson, who went by the moniker The Great Wizard of the North, may have used demonic imagery at some point. But interestingly, I saw a poster of Anderson's that used the opposite approach, rather than have devils and demons, he had a poster with the border covered in angelic beings. In Anderson's Second Site poster an angelic being can be seen hovering behind the performers.

Why Devils and Imps?

I couldn't help but wonder why this fascination with demonic forces. I still can't explain the earlier uses by Robert-Houdin and others. However, I'm sure I've figured out the connection to Herrmann, Kellar and beyond. If you look at the devilish figure in the Herrmann poster below, or in the famous posters with Kellar toasting the Devil, or even the devilish images that appear in some of the Servais LeRoy posters,  this devilish character is Mephistopheles who comes from the stories of Faust and German folklore.

The Faust story has been written by numerous authors like Marlowe and Goethe and interpreted in plays, poems, novels, and movies. The story in a nutshell is that of a learned man who sells his soul to the devil for magic powers and ultimate knowledge. Mephistopheles is a servant of the devil whose job it is to collect the souls of the damned. In the original story of Faust, Mephistopheles does not tempt Faust, but because he senses he is already damned accepts the deal that Faust offers him. Bingo! This is the imagery that Herrmann and Kellar and others are capitalizing on. Making a deal with the devil for magic powers and secret knowledge.

I'm only speculating here, but because magic as far back as the time of King James had an assumed connection to the devil, this notion may have continued, even though it was disproven over time. However, magicians decided to keep the notion going by adding the imps and devils and in some cases other magical creatures from folklore like gnomes and fairies*. It made the magic more mysterious and mystical, but in a mostly playful way. Even though I'm sure the more religious segment of society still stayed away from their performances.

In addition, the image of the Devil with horns and pitchfork is from the Greek mythological creature called The Satyr. These creatures were famous for being part man, part goat and being drunk and chasing nymphs. If one were to color the Satyr red, he would look exactly like the typical image of the Devil. The Satyr Head Trick, popular in Victorian times, looks to be a devil. We have grown accustomed to the horned red suited character with the pitchfork or trident as the Devil. But I believe that his image came from the Satyr and morphed into the Devil. In biblical texts, the Devil is only described as a fallen angel, and the most beautiful of the angels. So the image we are used to seeing, a horned red suited character with a pitchfork, was an artist rendition that continues to today.

Magicians & Lithographs

The explosion of devilish advertisements took place when magicians moved from using simple printed playbills to elaborate full color lithographs. The lithographic process dates back to 1796 but the use of color in lithographs wouldn't begin until 1819 and even then wasn't quite perfected until the 1840s.

The first two prominent performers to use full color lithographs and devilish imagery were Alexander Herrmann and Harry Kellar. Which one of them used the devil images first is open to debate. My guess would be Herrmann, after all he looked just like the Victorian eras depiction of the devil himself. In addition, Alexander's older brother Compars had used 'imp' figures in his promotional material as far back as 1862.

Regardless of who first created this devilish depiction, both of these performers used the imagery heavily in their promotions. Alexander Herrmann died in 1896 and his nephew Leon Herrmann, who bore a striking resemblance to Alexander,  joined with Adelaide, Alexanders widow, to take over the show and the hellish pictures continued. After Adelaide and Leon split up their act, Adelaide used a devil at least once before moving to a more contemporary look.

Harry Kellar's first use of a devil on his posters was in 1884. The poster is for a levitation and depicts Kellar being lifted above the heads of the audience by angels, while on stage is a winged demon. This poster would insinuate magic more akin to the supernatural or assisted by the supernatural.

Another poster from 1884  shows two devilish figures and a third devilish face on a poster for his Spirit Cabinet.  This can be seen on page 242 of Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel. It wasn't until 1894 that Kellar really begins to commit to this design idea. His iconic poster (below) with the whispering imps is probably the most copied posters in the annals of magic. Kellar continued to use the imps in his advertising throughout his career, an image of many different Kellar posters can be seen here.

When Howard Thurston purchased the Kellar show and became Kellar's successor he continued using the imps and the devils in his posters. And not to be left out, Carter, Raymond, Dante and Blackstone all used devils in their posters. Even Houdini was not immune to the effects, though it looks as if he only used the devils once and that was in his poster promoting his Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery.

After the Golden Age of Magic the use of the devilish figures diminished though they have not vanished entirely. A few years ago, Ricky Jay used a version of the whispering imps poster to promote his Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants show. David Blaine has included the use of devils in some of his posters.

Recently, Dan & Dave put out a t-shirt with the Kellar imp emblazoned on it. In 2012, magician and TV producer Chris Chelko created a series of playing cards called The Whispering Imps. The illustrations for the cards were done by Mark Stutzman, the same illustrator who does all of David Blaine's poster work.

*If you're wondering who the magician was that used gnomes, it was Edward Maro. He never used devils in his promotional materials. In fact, there is a cartoon from an old issue of The Sphinx showing Maro patting the head of a little imp and the caption below has to do with the fact that Maro never uses the devils in his work.

After 100+ years of using this imagery in magic posters, it's now part of magic history and people who use it today are really connecting back to the Golden Age of magic.
If you're interested in ordering one of David Blaine's very cool posters, they are available at
Also, if you'd like to see a cool site with over 100 pictures of magic posters with imps and devils on them please check out this link to Rhett Bryson's site.

Blog comments are welcome and encouraged. Also, if I happen to get some fact wrong historically I do appreciate having someone set me straight on that. I try to get the best information possible, but even I can miss something. If you want to discuss a blog in detail, please email me at

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My First Experience With Blackstone Jr.

The first professional magician I ever saw was Harry Blackstone Jr.. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I had just come back from a trip to Al's Magic Shop in Washington D.C.. and I had purchased an issue of Genii Magazine. While looking through this magazine, the first one I ever bought by the way, I saw an add promoting the Blackstone touring show. I looked over the list of cities the show would be appearing in and lo and behold they would be in Washington D.C. in the not too distant future.

My Dad bought tickets for the whole family and we sat in the third row at the Warner Theatre to see
Blackstone! What a life changing moment that was. Here was a real magician with a commanding presence on stage. He walked out with his birdcage and well, you know the rest. What an incredible show that was. So many great moments, like the Dancing Hank, The Floating Lightbulb, the Buzz Saw, The Circus act with the Girl from Cannon into Nest of Boxes. I was mesmerized by the whole show.

I never expected that years into the future I would own items from that very show. I purchased a number of costumes used in that show. I also bought one of the illusions they toured with, though it was not in the show I saw that first time.

Fast forward a number of years and I'm back at the Warner Theatre, this time to see Masters of Illusion, a touring show produced by Gay Blackstone, Harry's wife. What a thrill it was to meet Mrs. Blackstone after the show. I had actually met Gay, once before at the Magic Castle, but here we had an opportunity to speak with her. It was as if life was coming full circle. Actually, full circle would be Being IN The Masters of Illusion Show produced by Gay. (and we're working on that, trust me).
Carnegie, Gay Blackstone, and my assistant Denise.

I always thought that Harry Jr. would go on to be a huge name not just in magic but in show business. Clearly, he was a big name in magic, but I'm not sure he got the notoriety he deserved in the overall world of show business. Magician's rarely do get that kind of fame. But Harry really truly did deserve it. He was the quintessential theatrical magician. He was the whole package, he had the look, he had the skill, the talent, the presence, and he had the likability factor like few before or since.

Just today I came across an audio interview of Harry Jr. that a gentleman named Bill Smith had preserved. I heard so many interviews of the years with Harry. I remember listening to an interview he did for the radio with Larry King and others. So this brought back a lot of memories. IF you would like to hear this interview, please click the link and enjoy 20+ minutes of Harry Blackstone Jr. talking Blackstone Magic History!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Houdini In Minneapolis

My family comes from Minneapolis. Basically, my family tree in America starts in Minneapolis and branches out from there. So, I've always been curious about Mpls. I've visited there many times, gone to the magic shops in town. I remember driving by the theaters on Hennepin Avenue years ago wondering if Houdini had performed there. Well, now I have my answers and along the way a huge shock!

Houdini's career actually begins in the other twin city St. Paul MN. In March of 1899, Houdini was working at The Palm Garden when he met Martin Beck and his career was forever changed. But his first appearance in Minneapolis (Mpls) wasn't until 1915. He was performing at the old Orpheum Theatre the week of September 26th, 1915.

Mpls Morning Tribune Paper
On Thursday, September 30th, at 12:05pm Houdini was strapped by his ankles and hung upside down in a straitjacket in front of the Minneapolis Tribune Building on 4th and Marquette Streets. The straitjacket was furnished by the Mpls. Police department. He freed himself in front of crowd that covered on city block. For this stunt he received press articles on Sept 29, 30th and October 1st. This was one of the earliest hanging straitjacket escapes that Houdini ever presented. Possibly his second hanging straitjacket.

The evening of October 1st, Houdini would face a challenge posed by the shipping department of the New England Furniture and Carpet Company. They built a packing case that they were sure he could not escape from. In the Mpls Tribune Newspaper Houdini is quoted as saying "I do not say I will definitely get out. But I have never failed in an attempt. And tonight I will give it my best." He got out! If you want to read more about his 1915 exploits across the country, check out this link

The next time Mpls would see Mr. Houdini would be in February of 1923. And this is where the whole things gets personally interesting to me. It was February 7th, 1923 and Houdini was supposed to be raised 100 feet in the air above the Tribune Annex building downtown. When he arrived, he discovered that they wanted to hang him from a sign that was only 40 or so feet off the ground and Houdini refused. He said he promised to do it from 100 feet in the air, plus with 3000+ people watching, he'd need to be up higher to be seen properly. The rigging was thus moved to a higher location. Houdini was then strapped into the Police issue straitjacket. One of the two men strapping him in was Ole Berg. This is the name of my Great Great Grandfather who lived in Mpls. for a time. Was it MY Great Great Grandfather? I have no way of knowing for sure, as I know there were several Ole Berg's in that area then. It very possibly could have been. But I'm also sure that I had other relatives present at this event. Most of my relatives lived in Mpls. or nearby during this period of time.

Following his successful escape from the straitjacket, Houdini promptly headed to the Hennipin Orpheum for a matinee performance. During this performance he featured his escape from the Water Torture Cell. The photo below was from the Mpls Tribune, but I believe he was still being raised when this photo was taken because the newspaper said he was raised up to the 5th floor window level.

Photo used with permission Hennepin County Library Special Collections

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Forgotten Houdini Associate

While recently reading Dorothy Young's booklet about her time with the Houdini Show, I stumbled upon a name that did not ring a bell. In fact, when I looked him up in the Silverman book and the Kalush book on Houdini, neither of them mention this person. I eventually found a small mention of him in Houdini The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher. Then another mention in Pat Culliton's great book Houdini: The Key. In fact, it was a piece in Pat's book that tipped off another bit of info that I'll cover here too.

The man's name is L. Lawrence Weber.  He was born in 1869 in NYC, New York. According to Wikipedia he was an American Sports Promoter, stage show producer, and theater manager. In 1915, he was involved in the founding of Metro Pictures, which years later would morph into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

He seems to have been involved in both early motion pictures and theatrical stage shows. Then in
1925, he went into a partnership with Houdini. Weber would be the producer/promoter for the BIG 3-1 Show.  The Christopher book mentions that Houdini was in meetings with Weber almost daily. They had a tour to figure out, new promotional materials to design and approve, and a show to put together, a very big show.
The new Houdini theatre show, sometimes known as the 3 Shows in One Show,  opened August 1925 at the Maryland Theatre.  In The Untold Story, Milbourne Christopher says the show opened at the Maryland Theatre in Baltimore. This had me very excited. I was able to track down the location of that theatre and some photos. Unfortunately, The Maryland Theatre in Baltimore is long gone. AND, it turns out it's also the incorrect theatre! Christopher got that part wrong.

I knew there was a Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown MD, and that one still stands. However, after much digging I found the Hagerstown Maryland Theatre was also not the location. Thanks to something printed in Pat Culliton's book Houdini: The Key on page 398 there is a review of the very first Houdini 3-1 show. In the article it mentions Cumberland Maryland. After, more digging I finally found where there had once been a Maryland Theatre in Cumberland. It was on 37 Mechanic St. in Cumberland. The Cumberland Maryland Theatre opened on Nov 21, 1907 and had 1800 seats. It is now long gone, it was razed in 1964.

In the article printed in Houdini: The Key it says, "Opening the show last night, Houdini referred to Cumberland as marking an important epoch in his life and said that if he ever wrote an autobiography of his life, he would devote a chapter to his experiences in Cumberland inaugurating a new phase of his career as a public entertainer." In the same article on page 398, it goes on to say, that L. Lawrence Weber sent a note to Houdini following his opening at the Maryland Theatre which read, "Hope that today in Cumberland was but the dawn of a long and happy partnership between us and that future years will bring you new and greater honors which you so honestly deserve."

Here is an image of the theatre where Houdini began his big touring show in August 1925! Houdini's  big time theatrical debut took place right there on that stage. No more Vaudeville for Houdini.

Getting back to L. Lawrence Weber. He had a very successful career producing plays. His last was The Man Who Killed Lincoln which ran in 1940. Mr. Weber had one other connection to Houdini. He was one of the Honorary Pallbearers at Houdini's funeral. The others included: E.F. Albee, J.J. Murdock, Martin Beck, William Morris, Lee Shubert, Mark A. Luescher, Charles Dillingham, Richard E. Enright, Adolph S. Ochs, William Johnson, Adolph Zukor, Orson Munn, Arthur Prince, Bernard M.L. Ernst, Professor Brandon Matthews, Joseph F. Rinn, Sophie Irene Loeb, Bernard Gimbel, Francis Werner and Oscar Teale. 

*Please check out the comments below as John Cox/ had found out some information on L. Lawrence Weber that I missed. It adds another dimension into the Houdini/Weber relationship!